Mental Block? Analyzing PV Sindhu’s Losing Streak in Finals

Since Sindhu won the Korea Open back in 2017, six different players have beaten her in the major and minor finals.

Updated
Asian Games
4 min read
File photo of PV Sindhu.
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Long before she conceded the final point of the Asian Games women’s singles badminton final to Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying, the questions kept floating about PV Sindhu and her losses in the finals, big and small.

Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, World Championships and now the Asian Games featured her in the gold medal matches and yet she would take home silver.

Worse, she has lost many finals – seven in-a-row since she won the Korean Open in September last year – and that did cause some concern. But most questions are not justified since they focus on her mental strength. It is too simplistic to dismiss the run of losses in seven finals as mental block. Or even as being inferior either tactically or in terms of skill sets.

Beaten by Six Different Players in Final Matches

Suffice to say that she would not be winning close matches to get to the title rounds so often if she were not mentally strong. There can be no question that she is a gifted athlete, blessed with height and the ability to try and control, if not dictate, both the pace of the match and to find tactics to counter the rivals. If she can do it for four rounds, she surely can do it a fifth time.`

A journalist friend, watching the Asian Games in the refurbished and legendary Istora, asked me if she choked in the finals? Good, pertinent question.

But the answer has to be in the negative because choking would entail getting into winning positions. She has won just two games in the seven finals under the scanner.

Since she won the Korea Open last year, six different players have beaten her in the finals.

  • Tai Tzu Ying (Hong Kong Open 2017 and Asian Games Final)
  • Akane Yamaguchi (World SuperSeries Finals)
  • Beiwen Zhang (India Open)
  • Saina Nehwal (Commonwealth Games)
  • Nozomi Okuhara (Thailand Open)
  • Carolina Marin (World Championship)

That list suggests that it is not one player who has bothered her in the finals. Typically, you would reckon that some athletes come off second best to some others in competition, but this is not the truth in Sindhu’s case. Therefore, we have to look elsewhere for the solution to the conundrum of the final stumble.

Strain from Earlier Rounds

For long I have said that it is possible that she does not completely recover, physically and mentally, from the strain of the earlier rounds. She has to step on the court afresh to fight in the final. There is no doubt that Sindhu tries her hardest each time she steps on court, more so in the finals. It must be a matter of time before she bridges the narrowest of gaps and wins more finals than she loses.

To my mind, she will have to manage her recovery – physical and emotional – better after winning tough matches in the run up to the final.

There really is precious little time between the semifinals and final. The challenge for Sindhu and her coaching staff will be to find ways in which she returns to the court, feeling and believing that she is fresh.  

Surely, India’s Chief Coach P Gopichand and his support team will have analysed this streak with greater interest than many of us bystanders. Hopefully, they will have put their finger on the real issue and helped the player find a solution. It will be interesting to see their response to one of Indian sport’s most intriguing contemporary questions.

It's Important to Forget and Move On: Gopichand

It was easy to ask national coach Gopichand after the Asian Games final if he believed Sindhu had recovered physically and emotionally. He did not answer it directly, but his response was convincing enough for us to believe that this aspect is being taken care of by him and the rest of the support staff.

“I think there is a physical side to recovery, but the mental side to recovery also happens because you should not think too much about both the match you have just won and what's going to happen the following day,” he said. “As a top athlete, it's fundamental for you to keep forgetting things and move on.”

“If they have physical routines, they also have routines of pre-match preparations, which when you are fully involved and are in the present moment in itself, will take care of the emotional aspect,” he said. We will have to then accept that every attempt is made to let Sindhu take to court in a final, emotionally and physically recovered and fresh.

As the Dutch football players and British golfer Colin Montgomerie will know, the tag of the Eternal Bridesmaid is not the best to live with. And as British tennis player Andy Murray will concede, there is no greater joy in breaking free of that rut with a victory to end all such conversations as this one.

Surely, Sindhu will soon find a winning sequence that is just as significant and entrenched in public consciousness as her losses in the finals are. She is 23 and has a few years ahead of top quality badminton ahead of her. And we will have to believe that she and the national coach are eager to break that run sooner than later and make that tryst with the top of the podium.

(G Rajaraman is a Delhi-based student of sport who has been writing and commenting for 35 years. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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